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Virtue Tattoo studio. Photo: Sarah Rogers.

Reopening a small business in the 613: Virtue Tattoo studio

By John McDonald on June 23, 2020

Running a business is seldom a walk in the park. It’s more like juggling blindfolded while riding a unicycle uphill in a severe wind. For good measure, let’s throw in a pandemic.

We all have personal stories of how life has changed since mid-March, and we’re aware that the economy has taken a hard hit. Slowly, and with caution, we’re getting the go-ahead to open more businesses.

So how have local businesses been impacted by the lockdown, and by the movement to a phase that allows reopening? We are speaking with the owners of three small businesses, each with their own unique situations. Today: Virtue Tattoo.

Sarah Rogers of Virtue Tattoo is clear about how she views her ByWard Market tattoo studio:

“We chose our name because we wanted to convey a message of integrity in our pursuit of bringing our best intentions to the work we do. While tattoos can be frivolous and fun, we know that they are also healing and grounding for many of our clients. We understand how personal and transforming tattoos can be. We offer a space to have a safe and positive experience for all our clients. This place is our home. In our house we value respect, kindness, and community above all else.”

Virtue Tattoo studio. Photo: Sarah Rogers.

Unfortunately, by the nature of the work, her home has been quiet and closed during the lockdown. Unable to offer alternative services to her clients since the closure order, Sarah could only look ahead and consider what procedures might need to be introduced to the already health-aware industry.

In the first of our look at 613 businesses reopening, Sarah Rogers tells us about her new reality.

Sarah Rogers:

Leading up to the province’s announcement that we would have to close, I definitely knew that we were heading in that direction. The week before the official directive from the province, as a precaution, I cancelled several clients who would be travelling to Ottawa specifically to get tattooed.

In the first few days after closing, it was very unclear how long this was going to go on for. While I was prepared to handle a month or so without income, it was all a little too uncertain.

I’ve worked in Ottawa for many years as a tattooer, but this studio is my first endeavour as a business owner. That adds a whole layer of responsibility that quickly became very stressful – not knowing how I was going to survive financially and keep my studio open for an indefinite amount of time. Fortunately, I have a landlord who was willing to be flexible and understanding. That alleviated some pressure, and I was able to focus on ongoing costs that were not flexible and have been ongoing for these past three months.

Sarah Rogers of Virtue Tattoo. Photo: Sarah Rogers.

We were not able to offer services during our closure, given the nature of what we do. And, of course, there were serious fines involved for anyone who continued to tattoo during the closure.

I am looking forward to opening my studio again and tattooing. I am confident that given the health and safety measures that are already in place in the studio, combined with new protocols, we will be able to offer a very safe experience for our clients. There is some apprehension only because we know that it will be different. We won’t get to hug our clients or shake hands. It will feel a little clinical at first. But I’m sure we will find a way to maintain the warm, yet professional, approach to our work that makes people feel comfortable.

The studio really lends itself to some of the changes I’ve had to make to create some distance between myself and Alicia Alderson, the other artist who works with me. We are small, but the studio is very open, so I’ve moved a few pieces of furniture to create better flow and allow us to move around at a safe distance. We are already appointment-only and have adjusted our schedules so that it will be rare to have the two of us tattooing at the same time. This really minimizes traffic in and out of the studio and will make it easier to maintain a clean and safe environment.

Virtue Tattoo studio. Photo: Sarah Rogers.

We decided that we would begin wearing scrubs while at work and have added more PPE to our regular routine of gloves, disposable barriers, and medical-grade sanitizing. We have had standardized biohazard, infection control and cross-contamination training for years. We’ve always had strict guidelines from public health, so this is absolutely our wheelhouse.

Our clients will be asked to wear masks when they arrive, and our forms now include screening questions related to COVID-19. We will be encouraging clients to reschedule appointments if they feel unwell or have travelled in the last 14 days.

We’ve always had strict guidelines from public health, so this is absolutely our wheelhouse.

It’s going to be a collaborative effort between ourselves and our clientele to adjust to this new way of doing things. I’m hopeful that people will be patient and understanding.

Our first day of being open will be the second of July. I’m really excited to be getting back to something I love so much. I’ve had so much support and kindness from my clients while they have been patiently waiting to get tattooed and have that interaction. I feel very lucky to know that I have that to look forward to.

Virtue Tattoo is located at 457A Sussex Drive, suite 202. Find them online at  or follow @virtue_tattoo on Instagram.